Wikipedia:Product, process, policy
This is an essay on the policies Wikipedia:Ignore all rules, Wikipedia:Consensus and Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
In order of descending importance, product, process, and policy describe integral parts of Wikipedia. The three P's are part of the nature of dynamic processes in this project. Here, the focus is on how process and policy are generated in order to improve our product.
Our product is, of course, the encyclopedia, and this is the most important of the three. Based upon certain founding principles, we all work towards creating and improving our encyclopedia.
The foremost important principle here is be bold. Wikipedia has a lot of rules and guidelines, but you don't have to know all of them. If you have something interesting to write, write it. A related principle is ignore all rules. This is sometimes misunderstood as "you can do whatever you like", but that is not what it says. You can only do whatever you like as long as you can demonstrate that it improves the encyclopedia.
There are four other important principles that people should know about, although it is more important to know the general idea than to read into the details. The first is to strive towards the neutral point of view, and the second is to remember that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. The third principle is to cite sources, and the fourth is to not violate copyright laws.
When a large number of people are writing articles, there will inevitably be disagreement, ranging from the subtle (e.g. spelling preferences) to the blatant (e.g., whether a particular person or building is notable enough to warrant an article here) or even highly emotional (e.g., whether militants from a certain country are freedom fighters or terrorists). Our core principle guiding this matter is consensus of editors. Consensus is the primary way decisions are made on Wikipedia, and it is accepted as the best method to achieve our goals, i. e., to achieve our five pillars. Consensus on Wikipedia does not mean unanimity (which, although an ideal result, is not always achievable); nor is it the result of a vote. Decision-making involves an effort to incorporate all editors' legitimate concerns, while respecting Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. While consensus is the key method for making decisions, a consensus amongst editors at a certain article cannot override Wikipedia policies such as WP:NPOV. (The policies themselves are determined by consensus. If a policy is poorly written and is not accounting for something, in a way that interferes with improving the encyclopedia, the policy should be revised. See Wikipedia:Common sense.)
When there is disagreement, people should talk about it and develop a solution. Part of this is done on talk pages, or by requesting outside opinions. But because Wikipedia is such a large place, a number of processes have been created. The whole point of all of these processes is to get feedback and outside opinions. For convenience, the processes are split so that related issues show up at the same place. Sample processes include requests for comment, featured article candidates and articles for deletion. All of these serve to reach consensus through feedback of any editor that wishes to participate.
Because the whole point of process is feedback, when disagreeing with some action, the argument "process wasn't followed" is unconvincing if used by itself. It implies that you wanted to say something and didn't get the chance – so this raises the question what it is you wanted to say. If you don't have any additional arguments, that is not very helpful.
The two most important principles after consensus are civility and not to edit-war. Editors are interacting with one another and should do so in friendly and reasonable fashion. Other good principles include to assume good faith, and to not disrupt Wikipedia (especially not just to make a point).
With the exception of a few founding principles, nearly all our policies and guidelines are distilled from process – that is, from discussion with other editors. It is often preferable for policies and guidelines to spring up organically through codifying existing practice, rather than to be imposed from the top. (On the other hand, some Wikipedians believe that certain issues are political questions that can be more efficiently settled through formal proposals and centralized discussion than through precedent established by thousands of parallel mini-debates dealing with specific cases.)
Most incidents in Wikipedia are not new, and have been thoroughly discussed in the past. Through experience, we have a pretty good idea what the preferred style and layout of a page is, or when it is acceptable to delete pages, or under what circumstances people should be blocked from editing.
As such, policy and guidelines serve to show our experience on what works and does not work, and to streamline process by not repeating discussions we've already concluded in the past. Discussion is important, but many things have already been discussed and can already be acted upon. For instance, most criteria for speedy deletion stem from an issue being debated extensively in our articles for deletion and similar processes. Centralized discussion often brings together opinions on common issues that might otherwise be debated over and over.
An important principle here is that consensus can change. Since the policy is a result of process and practice (instead of the other way around) it is quite possible that policy changes as a result of practice changing. Another important principle is that Wikipedia is not a bureaucracy. Policy is subservient to product, not the other way around.
The result of this setup is that policy pages are often a step or two behind process. Whenever the result of process does not correspond with policy, it means that the policy is outdated. When we encounter a new situation, we are not required to base our discussion on policy. Rather, we base a new policy on the process of discussion. A corollary of this fact is that we, as a rule, do not vote on new policy or guideline pages. Frequently, we simply write down what already happens. Anything that describes the usual outcome of a common process is a good guideline for the future.
- Wikipedia:The role of policies in collaborative anarchy
- Wikipedia:Content forking/Internal § Policy forks – on avoiding conflict between different policy pages
- Category:Wikipedia essays explaining processes